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Can Yoga, Running & Other Exercises Help Fight Depressive Episodes?

Depression affects millions of people worldwide, and it can take a toll on both your physical and mental health. While there are many things you can do to alleviate the symptoms of depression, but staying active is perhaps one of the easiest things to do to help with the symptoms of depression. Experts also say that regular physical activity can help offset some of the symptoms of depression and provide relief to people who are dealing with this mental health condition. But can yoga, running, and other exercises really help fight depressive episodes? Let’s take a look.

Overview of Depression

Depression affects millions of people worldwide. This mental health condition is known to take a physical and mental toll on your body. Even today, depression remains one of the leading causes of disability globally, with over 300 million people living with this condition. (1,2,3,4,5) While doctors typically advise lifestyle changes, there is actually very little research available to show that these lifestyle changes help decrease the symptoms of depression. However, a new study now suggests that an increase in regular physical activity can dramatically help lower the risk of developing depression, especially in people who are at low and medium risk or a higher risk of developing this condition.(6,7)

Let’s take a closer look to see what this new research study shows.

Can Yoga, Running & Other Exercises Help Fight Depressive Episodes?

In a study published in November 2019 in the Depression and Anxiety Journal, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) discovered that practicing more physical activity for at least four hours a week or 35 minutes a day can help reduce the risk of having depressive episodes by nearly 17 percent.(8) Physical activity may include aerobics, high-intensity dance, machine exercises, or even low-intensity walks or yoga.

To show how regular physical activity has an effect on depression, the research team accessed the electronic and genomic health records of nearly 8,000 patients who are in the Partners Healthcare Biobank. The Partners Healthcare Biobank is a New England-based healthcare program that collects data of patients from different partner hospitals for research purposes.

The participants in this study provided their blood samples and also filled out a brief survey that included questions on their physical activity level and how much they exercise in a week.

In the next two years, the researchers also simultaneously referenced millions of other health records to determine the genetic risk of depression and how physical activity affects the progression of depression and its symptoms.

The participants who had a significantly higher risk of having depressive episodes were mostly diagnosed within these two years, but those participants who were more physically active were found to have a lesser chance of showing the symptoms of depression.(9)

Today depression has become a huge public health problem, and it is causing a lot of suffering to people who go through this mental health condition. However, this study has shown that something as simple as physical activity can help prevent people from experiencing a depressive episode. In fact, the positive effects of physical activity can even help people who have a history of depression in the past.

The study carried out by the Massachusetts General Hospital is being seen as the first link connecting exercise to a decrease in depression, even in people who have a genetic predisposition or a high risk of depression.

Even if there is a family history of depression, the research team believes that this study should act as a vital reference point for doctors to recommend exercise and not just medication alone to lower the risk of depression.

The best part is that the study shows that you do not need to indulge in strenuous exercise to benefit from physical activity. Even walking for half an hour a day can offer you the benefits of physical activity. Exercise can help improve the general well-being of a person, boost your appetite and energy levels, and also help you sleep better. All these factors can help you recover from depression and also prevent an episode of depression. At the same time, the common symptoms of depression like poor sleep, poor appetite, low energy levels, and negative thoughts in mind can all be prevented by regular physical activity.(10,11,12)

How To Add More Physical Activity To Your Day?

There is a close relationship between your physical health and mental health. Being in good physical health helps improve your mental well-being as well. The easiest way of practicing regular physical activity is to join a hobby or activity that you enjoy doing and want to do regularly.

For example, joining a dance club or finding a local walking group will not only help improve your social interactions, which is very important in improving depression symptoms, but also help you exercise regularly.(13,14)

Any type of low to high-intensity exercises like walking, running, swimming, aerobic exercises, cycling, dancing, yoga, gardening, and even Pilates can help. If nothing else, any type of household chores that involve physical movement like climbing the stairs can be beneficial. For instance, instead of driving everywhere, try to walk to nearby places. These are all small, easy, and significant steps that can help you maintain a healthy body and mind and also prevent a depressive episode.

Exercise is important for stimulating the brain. This boosts the release of neurochemicals like endorphins from the brain. Endorphins are the body’s ‘happy hormones.’ They act as a natural painkiller and also help relieve stress and pain in the body.(15,16)

Exercise also promotes the release of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, all of which are closely linked to feelings of happiness and promote a sense of well-being.(17)

Exercise also has many other health benefits, including weight reduction, which can be a significant source of worry and depression for many people.(18)


Regular physical activity can kick start a cascade of beneficial events in your body, including protection against diabetes and heart disease, improved sleep, better appetite, weight control, and lower blood pressure. Now, new research has established that physical activity can help keep depression at bay. Even exercising for half an hour every day can help release the feel-good chemicals in the brain known as endorphins, which help promote happiness and overall well-being.

Remember that it is never too late to start exercising, regardless of whether you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, or even older. Try to find an activity you enjoy doing so that you are more likely to stick to it. If you enjoy the activity you are doing, it is easier to make it a part of your lifestyle and help you keep depression at bay. However, remember to take it slow and easy when you start out. What is important is that you enjoy what you are doing.


  1. Who.int. 2021. Depression. [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression> [Accessed 13 January 2021].
  2. Lecrubier, Y. and Ustün, T.B., 1998. Panic and depression: a worldwide primary care perspective. International clinical psychopharmacology, 13, pp.S7-11.
  3. Duman, C.H., 2010. Models of depression. In Vitamins & Hormones (Vol. 82, pp. 1-21). Academic Press.
  4. Thapar, A., Collishaw, S., Pine, D.S. and Thapar, A.K., 2012. Depression in adolescence. The Lancet, 379(9820), pp.1056-1067.
  5. Üstün, T.B., Ayuso-Mateos, J.L., Chatterji, S., Mathers, C. and Murray, C.J., 2004. Global burden of depressive disorders in the year 2000. The British journal of psychiatry, 184(5), pp.386-392.
  6. Galea, S., Ahern, J., Nandi, A., Tracy, M., Beard, J. and Vlahov, D., 2007. Urban neighborhood poverty and the incidence of depression in a population-based cohort study. Annals of epidemiology, 17(3), pp.171-179.
  7. Liu, Q., He, H., Yang, J., Feng, X., Zhao, F. and Lyu, J., 2020. Changes in the global burden of depression from 1990 to 2017: Findings from the Global Burden of Disease study. Journal of psychiatric research, 126, pp.134-140.
  8. Choi, K.W., Zheutlin, A.B., Karlson, R.A., Wang, M.J., Dunn, E.C., Stein, M.B., Karlson, E.W. and Smoller, J.W., 2020. Physical activity offsets genetic risk for incident depression assessed via electronic health records in a biobank cohort study. Depression and anxiety, 37(2), pp.106-114.
  9. Comstock, G.W. and Helsing, K.J., 1977. Symptoms of depression in two communities. Psychological medicine, 6(4), pp.551-563.
  10. North, T.C., McCULLAGH, P.E.N.N.Y. and TRAN, Z.V., 1990. Effect of exercise on depression. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 18(1), pp.379-416.
  11. Cooney, G.M., Dwan, K., Greig, C.A., Lawlor, D.A., Rimer, J., Waugh, F.R., McMurdo, M. and Mead, G.E., 2013. Exercise for depression. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (9).
  12. Mead, G.E., Morley, W., Campbell, P., Greig, C.A., McMurdo, M. and Lawlor, D.A., 2008. Exercise for depression. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (4).
  13. Fox, K.R., 1999. The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public health nutrition, 2(3a), pp.411-418.
  14. Callaghan, P., 2004. Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care?. Journal of psychiatric and mental health nursing, 11(4), pp.476-483.
  15. Harber, V.J. and Sutton, J.R., 1984. Endorphins and exercise. Sports Medicine, 1(2), pp.154-171.
  16. Rokade, P.B., 2011. Release of endomorphin hormone and its effects on our body and moods: A review. In International Conference on Chemical, Biological and Environment Sciences (Vol. 431127, No. 215, pp. 436-438).
  17. Meeusen, R. and De Meirleir, K., 1995. Exercise and brain neurotransmission. Sports Medicine, 20(3), pp.160-188.
  18. Fabricatore, A.N., Wadden, T.A., Higginbotham, A.J., Faulconbridge, L.F., Nguyen, A.M., Heymsfield, S.B. and Faith, M.S., 2011. Intentional weight loss and changes in symptoms of depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of obesity, 35(11), pp.1363-1376.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 28, 2021

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